For most couples, counselling is a last-ditch effort to save a strained relationship, but millennial lovebirds Zac Franich and Viarni Bright sought the help of trained professionals just weeks into their blossoming romance.
While the besotted duo – who simply can’t stop gazing into each other’s eyes and smiling sweetly at one another during our exclusive shoot – know their experience on The Bachelor New Zealand couldn’t have worked out better, they are candid about the difficulties that come with finding love in front of the nation.
“It presented challenges to us in different ways,” says 28-year-old Zac. “I know Viarni found it hard to deal with the way the show played out in the end. It was a two-horse race – some people wanted person X to get the final rose and some people wanted person Y. I felt a little burnt-out after filming. I was constantly ending relationships, but wasn’t able to properly process those feelings.”
While filming on the Three series ended back in May, the show was still airing on TV screens for several weeks afterwards - meaning the couple had to keep their relationship top secret for over a month. With very few people to confide in, Zac – who used therapy to overcome his battle with depression in 2015 – says their counsellor offered an independent perspective and helped them make sense of their unique situation.
“It was really important to us that we could both be across what we were feeling and how it was impacting our relationship,” he says. “And V was super-supportive through all of that – she truly is incredible.”
The strapping surf-lifesaving coach can hardly believe he’s lucky enough to call Viarni, 22, his girlfriend. The moment he set eyes on the flame-haired beauty as she stepped out of the car in her sparkly, rose-embellished gown on the show’s premiere, Zac was immediately taken.
“There was definitely something there and that was undeniable – it was impossible to hide the big, goofy grin on my face,” he confesses. “And the more I spent time with Viarni, the deeper those feelings became. V is always there for me. She’s caring and supportive, and makes me feel like I’m not alone. She has this way of making me feel special. It’s something I adore and I hope I can always do the same for her.”
“You definitely do,” blushes Viarni, who’s happily wrapped in Zac’s arms. “I went on to this show knowing I might leave broken-hearted, but I never knew I could be this happy.
“Zac is my boyfriend, but he’s also my best mate. He’s a big softie who can make me smile for no reason at all. Honestly, it still doesn’t quite feel real. It’s the nicest feeling knowing that he’s all mine and we have forever to be together.”
While the starting date of their relationship is a little tricky to pinpoint, the couple have decided May 22 – the night The Bachelor NZ Live: Women Tell All went to air – will be their official anniversary. It was on that very evening, after weeks of dating in private, that the lovebirds were finally able to take their relationship public.
“It was such a relief,” tells Viarni, who works for a boutique homeware company. “We’d try to see each other as often as we could, which was about once a week, but it never felt like enough. Every day after work, I’d just want to go home and cuddle up in his arms.”
“It truly was like dating under the cover of darkness,” adds Zac, who said the couple booked private hideaways on Airbnb and made use of friends’ vacant homes.
“We’d plan to meet at night and arrive in separate cars, wearing hoodies. Part of it was exciting at first, but honestly, we were counting down the days until we could just do ordinary things like an ordinary couple. I wanted to walk down the street holding her hand – I was so unbelievably happy and I didn’t want to hide that any more.”
While much of the couple’s time on the show was spent discussing big relationship issues like weddings and children, with the series now over, they’re enjoying getting back to basics.
“We haven’t used the ‘L word’ yet,” smiles Viarni, “but we like each other a whole lot. For me, it wasn’t until Zac uttered those final words that I could accept my feelings for him. It’s so nice to have no inhibitions, to completely give in to how good that feels and to see where it takes us.”
In the lead-up to the final, odds were firmly on Viarni to win Zac’s heart over the show’s runner-up Lily McManus, 20, but he insists this isn’t the case.
“I can honestly say that I didn’t allow myself to make a decision before it was time,” he says. “I was surprised that I was able to develop feelings for more than one person, but there were other people I cared about a lot and for some, I could see exactly what a relationship might look like.”
Yet there was always one girl who made it incredibly tough to keep an open mind, says Zac, so when the time came to film the show’s final episode, he offered his ring – and his heart – to Viarni with complete conviction.
“Part of me is glad that I didn’t shut off all those other connections because if I’d become insular, I’d have never got to test how strong mine and V’s connection really is. By the end of the whole experience, I was ready to make the right decision for me and I’m just so stoked that it’s V who is here with me.
“There might have been 22 other girls, but that’s all in the past. This ring is a promise – it is me saying to Viarni, you are the only one I can see myself falling in love with.”